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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Just like people bracing themselves for holiday credit card bills and the filing of taxes, Maryland lawmakers are heading to Annapolis to work on the budget.

This year, it’s going to leave a mark. Just holding the line will come with a cost.

“The truth is that a flat budget, in real terms, means cuts,” says Maryland Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel. “Because costs increase, you know, inflationary pressures increase.”

“The obvious and the easy is gone,” says Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

He should know. Bergsman a budget-cutting veteran himself, has worked in the Maryland Department of the Budget in the past.

“I’ve cut this budget for Governor Schaefer, Governor Glendening and Governor Ehrlich. It wasn’t easy in those downturns and this one is far worse than any of those.”

So what’s left to cut?

“The services that citizens expect and depend on,” Bergsman says.

Astle agrees. Lawmakers have cut as much fat as they could in the last few General Assembly sessions.

“It’s not going to be a fun time to be a legislator, I can tell you that,” Astle says.

The 2010 session starts Jan. 13.